For the Love of Selfies

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The photo above was taken in 2008 when I was 22 after spending 16 years in hiding. Over those 16 years my photo had been taken by family members or other people where the way I was photographed was more about how others settled their gaze upon me and I wasn’t able to control or dictate the way I was captured. Much like what Melissa from Shakesville wrote, having my photos taken before the age of 22 meant it wasn’t for myself. I lacked the ability to move beyond how others decided to view my body and instead was forced into being visible in ways I wasn’t comfortable with.

Yesterday Jezebel posted an article declaring that people who take selfies are really “crying for help,” not only pathologizing those of us who take selfies but also completely ignoring how the dynamics behind selfies are more than just taking a photo or about vanity. Like many other people on twitter wrote, selfies can also be incredibly powerful in the way they directly challenge how marginalized people and their bodies are viewed by the world, while also challenging how mainstream imagery of marginalized people rely on stereotypes.

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As a fat woman who has been told repeatedly I don’t have the ability to be attractive, beautiful and shouldn’t be visible the use of selfies not only has allowed me to reclaim a part of myself I was told I wasn’t allowed to have, but has served to be part of a larger form of political resistance against those people who gaze upon my body. My visibility politic dares them to not look at me. Being visible as a fat person happens regardless of how you perform your visibility politic. As a fat person, much like other marginalized identities, your body is hyper-visible and are often reminded through interactions with others that they disprove of the way you present yourself. In the media, visibility is only allowed if you conform yourself to specific tropes related to the identities you possess. As a fat woman I am limited to only being visible if I am participating in a weight loss show, am attempting to no longer be fat or headless and completely dehumanized. (Edited to add link to “Headless Fatties”)

Selfies change all of that, they allow me to reclaim that part of myself I was told to never allow to be visible. They allow me to remove my body from the constraints on how others think I should be looked upon and instead let me shift their gaze elsewhere. They let me look back on past photos and be reminded how blissfully happy I was when I’m having a bad day. They also allow me to see how I have evolved as a person over the years and have found my more authentic self. Viewing the selfies other people take reminds me that I am not alone. There are other amazing, gorgeous and powerful people out there who are also reclaiming their own visibility. They are sick of letting other people dictate how they should present their bodies.

Aside from that for those of us who are still not ready to be visible, it’s ok. Being visible isn’t mandatory; it’s a process that sometimes we aren’t ready for or want to be part of. Visibility politics can still be limiting and I totally understand people who don’t feel the need to be visible, I still feel that way some days. The most important thing is living how you want to, not allowing others to attempt to change or dictate how you do it.

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For further reading,

Hashtags #FeministSelfie & #FeministSelfies <- Look at all the selfies!! (#feministselfie created by @thewayoftheid & @convergecollide)

The Radical Politics of Selfies – The Feminist Griote

Selfies – Shakesville

A Study of the Self – Fat Heffalump

As always, connect with me on tumblr and twitter.

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23 thoughts on “For the Love of Selfies

  1. Pingback: Reflections of the Self | Fat Heffalump

  2. AGREED. As a 31 year old fat girl who has shied away from other people taking photos my entire life, I find myself enjoying taking and posting selfies on instagram. I am in control and sometimes my hair/lipstick/pose/bruise looks awesome and I have to share.

  3. I’m a little curvacious. I love taking selfies or mirror pictures. On a good day, I’ll even make a duck face. Why?! Because I can, I will, and I dont care what others think. I love self expression, like you said, looking back on certain pictures, helps me rekindle those moments. In my opinion, it also forces someone to look beyond my body. Notice the fact that I have nice eyes, high chick bones, and nice lips. **edited to remove weight loss talk** I don’t think its vain to be proud of what you look like.

  4. I love this post and agree 100%!
    By the way, I think you are not only attractive, but freakin’ GORGEOUS! If I got to choose the type of complexion I could have, I would totally choose yours. You’re radiant. I’m glad that you’re not depriving the internet of your selfies or your insight. Thanks for sharing. :)

  5. My selfies collection is often the only reminder of how much happier I really am despite my world being turned upside down in the last 2 years. I look through these pictures and realize that they exist because there isn’t anyone else to take them… And that’s clearly manifested itself in a positive way in terms of my physical appearance. I look at them and slowly see the life growing back and the sparkle in my eyes.

  6. In recent years I haven’t really allowed myself to be photographed unless I was really drunk, and the camera was out of focus and looking downwards (that makes your legs look really slim even when the middle aged spread starts to take a hold). Inside I still feel a svelte 19. In photos I look like a bad 50 something with teeth and mid rift that need a good makeover. I don’t have the courage to take selfies.. yet.

  7. Yep, that’s pretty much the reason I stopped following Jezebel. For the number of posts and writers who are insightful and whose writing is worth reading, there are those who just undermine what I thought the site was supposed to be about. This isn’t the first time they’ve criticized the behaviors of women on the web, painting all with a wide and negative brush. The times I have felt the best about my body, felt the most beautiful, I took selfies. Now that I have degraded back into a state of deep body shame, I don’t even want to see pictures of myself, and only post selfies that are of myself and my boyfriend. So, actually, I suspect that the act, for the most part, has little to do with vanity or are a cry for help. I agree with you, that when you are confident, you own yourself fully, including the images you post. When girls do it as a form of validation, it’s pretty obvious, and calling that a “cry for help” is a pretty crappy thing to say. Even if it is, mocking a cry for help is just low. You are awesome and this post is awesome!

  8. Excellent points! There is a lot of creativity to be found in a self portrait when done thoughtfully. The WORD “selfie” annoys me to no end, but it seems like it is here to stay.

  9. This is a very good article. I never understood all the fuss about selfies. I guess they don’t annoy me that much. I think if you’re seriously that annoyed by someone else taking self portraits, you’ve got to be pretty self absorbed yourself. But this article put it in a much more political perspective for me. Thank you. I’ve never been super in to taking selfies, but maybe I should do it more.
    I wonder sometimes if people view portraits taken by other photographers as as annoying as selfies? I’ve had boudoir photography done of myself many times. I hired a photographer to document my second birth, and to take nursing pictures of me and my daughter before I weaned. All of these experiences were empowering, but also, it’s just really important to me to document the big moments in life. Maybe it’s because I was a photojournalist in the Army for many years, I don’t know. But do people who hate selfies think that these commissioned portraits of myself and my life are as annoying or arrogant as pictures I take myself? And is it only self portraits that annoy them? Because personally, I get far more annoyed with amateur photographers who are always posting black and white photos of clouds and shit. Not that I didn’t do equally as stupid things when I was starting out in photography, so I really shouldn’t pass judgement.
    On a side note, I really love how you curled your hair in the second picture. I wish I knew how to do that with my hair!

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  12. Keep taking your selfies; they truly are a reflection of you. You are beautiful indeed! Self portraits can really be therapeutic and as you say, and allow you to take control of how you’re photographed. I’m currently working through a series of self portraits and it has truly been a life changing experience. I would totally encourage others to explore the power of self portraiture as well.

  13. Pingback: Selfie-Esteem | Conceited Independence

  14. I love this! That Jezebel post was ridiculous, IMO. If people want to take selfies, whether those people are fat or thin, they should be allowed to without being stigmatized for it! I am sure there are selfies out there that are some kind of cry for help, but I believe that if a person needs help, they will ask for it. Basically: Selfies have nothing to do with needing help or not. They are just something people do because they are happy, or bored, or feel special or sexy.

    Bravo, girl. Bravo.

  15. Pingback: Can’t stop, won’t stop (taking selfies) | SCREAMING IN ALL CAPS

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